Last push on big bills

Senate Democrats this week want to pass two controversial bills on the back of defense authorization legislation. But it’s not clear whether they have the votes.

There is a massive lobbying push to round up votes on an immigration reform bill called the DREAM Act and on a measure affecting the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rule about gay people in the military.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) surprised many on Capitol Hill by scheduling these votes so close to the election.

But before any votes on either gays in the military or immigration, the Senate must pass a motion, requiring 60 votes, to proceed to the defense authorization bill.

The DREAM Act has previously attracted GOP support, though several Republicans indicate they will reject it this week. 

The pressure from immigration-reform advocates will be on Democrats who voted against it in 2007, including Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). 

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) last week indicated Democrats are closing in on the necessary votes for the DREAM Act, but getting to 60 will be extremely challenging.

The vote on “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will also be close, with much of the attention now on centrist Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

There is other important legislation to get done this week. While some House Democrats are not thrilled with the long-stalled small-business bill that cleared the Senate last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has embraced it. That bill will clear the House and soon be signed by the president.

With the House expected to adjourn at the end of next week, lawmakers are scrambling to get bills on the congressional agenda. But many measures are slowly dying or will limp into the lame-duck session with an uncertain future.

Bills on Cuba travel, Internet gambling, stem cells, food safety and child nutrition are on life support, hoping to be revived after the elections.

Their fate is better than others, however. Climate change is dead, as is so-called card-check legislation favored by labor unions. A budget rescissions bill that President Obama called on Congress to pass in May has gone nowhere.

A U.S.-Russia arms treaty, however, has attracted momentum. The START treaty cleared a Senate panel last week, 14-4. Despite needing 67 votes to clear the full chamber, it stands a better chance than most pending bills passing in the lame-duck session.